After weeks of uncertainty and speculation, the end of the Vince Young era in Tennessee started coming into view for the first time on Tuesday, after Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt and the team's executive VP/general counsel Steve Underwood returned from their end-of-the-season organizational meeting with owner Bud Adams in Houston.
That's when they brought news back to Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher that the 88-year-old Adams had finally conceded the franchise needed to part ways with its mercurial 2006 first-round pick and former starting quarterback. The Titans will either release Young by Feb. 7, the first day he can be waived, or trade him once the trading period begins on the first day of the new league year in early March.
Despite it being obvious to almost everyone else that it was an either-him-or-me type of stand off, Adams had consistently maintained since mid-November that his team's quarterback and head coach were not destined for a divorce, saying he thought the two could still work out their differences. But he was brought around to the idea in the past two days when he learned just how pervasive the anti-Young factions were within the organization.
According to one team source, Young had about four or five players in the Titans locker room who remained loyal to him and took his side in his highly publicized showdown with Fisher. The rest believed the team needed to cut ties with Young, and if it hadn't, there would have resulted in a line of players at Reinfeldt's door requesting an offseason trade.
While Adams said in a statement released by the team that his evaluation of the coaching staff is ongoing, Fisher clearly will be welcomed back to Tennessee for the 2011 season if the NFL's most-tenured head coach agrees to return. Fisher has one year left on his contract, and while there are other important issues that sources say he wants addressed by Adams, the owner is said to be very hesitant to undergo a coaching change amid the uncertainty brought on by the league's looming CBA negotiation and potential labor unrest.
In short, Fisher won the power struggle he and Young were engaged in, and in all likelihood, Adams will seek to satisfy his coach's other issues in short order and soon begin preparations for next season. Adams has no intention to suffer the double whammy of releasing the quarterback he forced Fisher to draft in 2006, and lose his longtime head coach, so Fisher's return to the Titans at $6 million next season looks all but assured.
A source told me the vast majority of Titans players had grown frustrated with Young's repeated maturity issues, and he still hadn't progressed to the point where he could seamlessly call plays in the huddle, or commit himself to the work and preparation required of an NFL starting quarterback. Adams was made aware of how widespread the rest of the locker room felt hamstrung and held back by Young's lack of development.
"The fact that he still has a hard time calling plays in the huddle, that's a problem for us," a Titans source said. "There's not indifference here about Vince. There's some serious animosity. A lot of guys would want out of here if he came back. Everyone knows he's the guy who's supposed to drive the car, he's supposed to be our leader. But he doesn't do the things you have to have your quarterback do. Guys can't trust him. Even after all this time. It had to start with not having No. 10 back here."
Adams lives and has his offices in Houston, and only visits Nashville on occasion. Part of what Reinfeldt, Underwood and Fisher were able to convince of is that a backlash from the team's fans and the community was coming if Adams chose Young over Fisher, as it has appeared for weeks now that he would. And that included some disillusionment from some of the team's local sponsors, a fact that started to register with Adams and began to overcome some of the disconnect that complicated his grasp of how eroded Young's standing was in Tennessee.
Even with the Titans collapsing from a 5-2 start to a disappointing 6-10 finish this season, with Fisher's job security a topic of constant debate and speculation due to his lack of delivering a playoff trip in 2010, the majority of public opinion was firmly in his corner in the showdown with Young.
Fisher has long refused to confirm that Adams mandated the Titans select Young third overall in 2006, but it's a widely known fact within the organization and has frustrated the team's coaches at various times throughout Young's five-year NFL career. Adams and Young are both from Houston, and Adams became a fan while watching Young lead the Texas Longhorns to a national championship in 2005.
"Nobody has ever said to [Adams] that we're in this situation because you made us take the guy [Young]," a source said. "But I don't think anyone has to say it at this point."
While Fisher could conceivably draw interest from teams like Miami and Denver that are either contemplating coaching moves or have a vacancy, a team source said he truly wants to return to Tennessee, and feels the team has playoff potential next year if it can improve its quarterback situation. Adams has made it clear to Fisher that his return in 2011 is a priority for the franchise, because he does not want to be going through a period of organizational transition while the league and its players are trying to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.
For now, Fisher represents the continuity Adams is seeking. As of Wednesday, Young represents a mistake the Titans are trying to move past.